Lisa woke us at 04:00 and we joined her for a simple
breakfast before sorting out our kit for the ascent of Aiguille du Tour. At 04:45 we put on our head torches and
set off, aiming to get ahead of the crowds.
After 10 minutes or so we reached the edge of the glacier,
attached our crampons and roped together as quickly as possible. We set off up the glacier at a blistering
pace, leaving most other groups trailing in our wake. There were a couple of groups ahead of us, but the vast majority
gradually faded into the darkness behind us.
For an hour or so we climbed up a fairly gentle incline,
cutting across the slope where it became too steep. The final ascent to the summit of Aiguille du Tour is normally
attempted from the east of the peak so as we had started from the west we had
to climb round to the far side.
Originally we had planned to climb up to the col to the north of the
peak, but Lisa decided before we set off that this route had more fresh snow on
it than the col to the south, so our route was altered.
The half hour climb to the col was very hard work: the slope
was quite steep, requiring the feet to be side-on to the mountain, and Lisa was still keeping the pace up.
Al pausing on the col as the sun rises
After a total of 1½ hours we reached the col between the
Glacier du Tour and the Glacier du Trient.
We paused very briefly for a drink there, switched to short-rope mode
(aimed at catching people falling down steep slopes, using a much shorter
distance of rope between members of the rope party to reduce the momentum that
can be built up before the rope tightens) and set off round the back of the
Although we were one of the first groups up from the French
side, as we left the col and the sun came up we saw several groups coming up
from the Italian side of the mountain, silhouetted against the clear blue sky.
The route from the col to the base of the final ascent was a
welcome relief after the climb to the col.
We climbed gently as we traversed round the south-west of the peak on
the Glacier du Trient, then pulled up about 100m to reach a little plateau
where we met up with the groups from the Italian side.
We paused only briefly, to avoid being slowed by other
groups, then set off to reach the summit.
Lisa decided the south peak was looking busier, so we aimed for a steep
snow-filled couloir between the north and south peaks with the aim of turning
towards the slightly higher north peak.
Before we reached the couloir we had a steep climb up to and
over a bergschrund. We switched to
glacier-travel mode to cross the bergschrund, then back to short-rope mode for
the climb up the couloir.
The couloir presented some of the steepest climbing we had
yet encountered. We front-pointed our
way up using our ice-axes, then came to a stop some way short of the top of the
couloir as Lisa decided to break out and start climbing up the rocky side of
Rather than removing our crampons when we reached the edge
of the snow, Lisa told us to keep them on.
I was a bit wary of using the crampons on rock but they gripped
surprisingly well, especially when using a single front point in a small crack
in the rock. After five minutes we
found ourselves back on small patches of ice so were glad we’d kept the
The climb to the summit took longer than I’d expected, as
Lisa insisted on climbing ahead and belaying Al and me, rather than the three
of us climbing together. About 20
minutes after leaving the couloir and about 2¾ hours after leaving the refuge, we
arrived at the summit and rested for a while as a couple of English climbers
caught up with us.
While we were on the summit we noticed some very dark clouds
moving rapidly towards us. Within
minutes the sun had disappeared and it had begun snowing lightly. More concerning was the buzzing noise from
the walking pole sticking out of Lisa’s pack.
When we worked out what the noise was we decided it was time for a hasty
descent, so Al and I were rapidly belayed and then followed by Lisa.
The descent to the refuge was taken in reverse order, with
Al leading and Lisa following. When we
reached the refuge we paused for a break, before setting off down the edge of the
glacier and picking up the traverse path back to the top of the Télésiège du
Col de Balme.
Back down in Le Tour we stopped for a celebratory beer with
a big group of Danish climbers and their three guides, one of whom was Lisa’s
boyfriend. As we sat in the sun, he
started telling the Danes that they would not be climbing Mont Blanc on
Thursday (as was our plan) due to the weather.
He explained that the Wednesday’s forecast was for precipitation, which
would result in too much fresh snow on the route to make the ascent on Thursday
morning. With this depressing thought
in mind we waved the party goodbye and caught the bus back to Les Praz to
collect our stuff from La Bagna.
Having picked up our kit we sat on the grass for half an
hour feeling exhausted, worrying about the weather and waiting for another bus
to take us to the centre. From there we
had to wait another half hour for a further bus to take us to the youth hostel
in Les Pelerins.
We finally arrived at the youth hostel at about 15:00, after
a draining walk from the bus stop and were annoyed to find that we couldn’t go
straight to bed, as the youth hostel didn’t open until 17:00. Instead, we lay on the lawn for two hours
and promised ourselves that next time we’d stay in a hotel in the centre.
When the hostel opened we were first in the queue. Our spirits were raised when we found we had
a private room and by the time we’d both had a shower and a shave we were
feeling much happier.
After a beer from the hostel bar we joined the rest of the hostel
for a dinner of ray wing – a rather strange choice considering the average age
of the clientele must have been under 15.
We sat next to a stereotypical German family who attempted to speak to
us in English but as soon as we’d
finished eating Al and I agreed we wanted nothing more than to sleep.
When we’d left Lisa earlier she had promised to send a text
message regarding the rest of our trip once she’d studied the weather
forecast. If the Mont Blanc ascent was
on then we would be allowed a lie in, but if the weather ruled that out then
we’d agreed that we should make an earlier start to do some low altitude rock
climbing. Having received no message by
the time we went to bed, we left Al’s phone on loud so we’d wake up when the
message arrived. As it happened, the
only message we received was from Al’s girlfriend, Melissa, at about 03:00!